Walt Disney Pictures
You wouldn’t think that theme park rides would translate so easily into major motion pictures, but apparently they do. Tomorrowland is Theme Park Ride Movie #5, after The Haunted Mansion, The Country Bears, Pirates of the Caribbean (which I’m lumping into one movie out of list convenience) and a made-for-TV Tower of Terror starring Steve Guttenberg that no one ever cared about.
If this trend’s going to continue (and given the predictions that Tomorrowland will rake in a respectable $45–50m this weekend, I’m guessing they probably will), we might as well jump out in front of it. More rides will be made into movies. All of them Disney rides, given that Disney’s the only park to do it thus far, and probably the only park whose rides have enough character to generate 90 minutes of continuous story.
So what other Disney rides could be adapted into movie form? Better yet- a movie people might actually want to watch?
The title of this article says “Rides,” but as Tomorrowland proves (also, a Magic Kingdom movie Jon Favreau was developing way back when), you can just as easily turn an entire Disney park sub-zone into a solid movie pitch. So here’s one: DinoLand, U.S.A.
Like the name suggests, it’s the chunk of Disney World’s Animal Kingdom reserved exclusively for dinosaur-based rides, snacks, and gift shops. And before you suggest the obvious arguments against DinoLand U.S.A., a “Dinosaur Theme Park” movie (“already been done,” “a title nobody could possibly like,” “….the most popular movies of all time, sir! What were you thinking?”), DinoLand U.S.A. easily evades them all.
The real-life DinoLand is more than just a collection of rides in a theme park; it’s modeled like a small town. That happens to be obsessed with dinosaurs. For some reason, Disney wrote up an entire backstory and in-universe lore to justify this small dinosaur-based section of Disney World, and that’s what you’d base the DinoLand U.S.A. movie off of.
In the official canon, DinoLand U.S.A. was originally a little highway town rich in dinosaur fossils. A group of paleontologists and fossil hunters bought the place and reworked it into a paleontological marvel., with a Dino Institute and a Restaurantasaurus (the word “Restaurantasaurus” is enough to justify this movie being made). Also, eventually the scientists worked out a method of time travel and routinely visit actual dinosaurs, which is probably worth a mention.
Obviously, a DinoLand U.S.A. movie would have to blend old-fashioned, small-town values and the constant threat of time-travel malfunction and rampaging dinosaur attacks. Take the easy route and make it Tremors. Or think bigger- maybe a time machine goes haywire and the entire town is warped into the middle of a Cretaceous jungle? Then you could do a whole Stand By Me thing, like a coming of age story with kids venturing off into the countryside. And the countryside is full of dinosaurs.
I’m genuinely surprised no one’s tried to make this one yet. Fantasmic! is every single Disney movie smooshed together, plus lasers, fireworks and a light dusting of LSD. It’s a stage show, where a guy in a Mickey costume guides you through little chunks of The Jungle Book and Pinocchio and all the rest, composed partly from live performers and partly from lasers and light stuff. Eventually, the Evil Queen from Snow White crashes the party and summons the full Disney villain pantheon, but Mickey goes hardcore, draws a sword and beats ’em all. Even the toweringly huge animatronic Maleficent dragon.
A little hokey, sure, but it’s The Avengers with classic Disney characters, and it comes pre-wrapped in an extremely movie-like package with a neat little bow. Everyone’s tripping over themselves to find the next great cinematic universe, and Disney’s got one hidden away in Disneyland (also, Disney World and Tokyo Disney) that they’re not even using.
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter (and yes, that name’s too long, too terrible and would be jettisoned immediately) didn’t start out as ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. It was originally Nostromo, a theater show where passengers were stalked by the Xenomorph from Alien. But a bloody, R-rated Disney World ride was nixed pretty quick, and went through a few redesigns before it emerged a finished attraction.
What Disney ended up with was a fictional tech demonstration for the alien-run X-S Tech Corporation and their new state-of-the-art teleporter. The presentation goes about as badly as a tech demonstration ever could- the teleporter glitches out and accidentally warps a massive, hungry alien into auditorium. Then it eats a stage hand (stage hand goo sprays out among the audience). Then, nifty 4D seats simulate the hot breath and spittle of an alien that’s licking its lips, right behind you…
Even without the Xenomorph, ExtraTERRORestrial is much freakier than your average Disney ride. And it might make a truly excellent Amblin’-style adventure movie. You know, Gremlins or Arachnophobia. Something for kids, and for scaring the crap out of kids. Maybe stick to the trapped-in-one-room conceit of the ride and keep things very low-key.
(Fun Fact: 11-year old me once read the description for ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter in a Disney guidebook and was so overwhelmed with panic-fear that I refused to go anywhere near that ride for the entirety of a Disney World vacation. 11-year old me was a total wuss. But the description used the word “discombobulated,” and I was 100% sure that meant “turned inside out with all your guts hanging out and stuff”).
Journey Into Imagination
Journey Into Imagination, in its current state (today it’s called Journey Into Imagination With Figment), would make an absolutely awful movie. Right now, it’s a ride that teaches kids about the five senses, narrated by Eric Idle and a sassy cartoon dragon. Besides Eric Idle, none of that is worth watching, and “it’s just Eric Idle” is good, but not great as far as pitches go. We can do better.
And the original Journey Into Imagination is much better. At least as the basis for a potential movie. Way back when, Journey Into Imagination’s on-rails adventure followed alongside a kindly old man called the Dreamfinder, who took people’s dreams and used them to create all kinds of nifty, whimsical gobbledygook. Boxed applause, or a pot of rainbows.
There’s a decent adventure movie in there somewhere- both from the “use your imagination to make any kind of crap you can think of” aspect, and the dream-stealing, which sounds more sinister than it actually is. What happens if the Dreamfinder stops taking people’s dreams? Would there be dream overflow into our world? Where exactly does the Dreamfinder live in relation to our world? All concepts a Journey Into Imagination movie could expand on. And in general, the idea of an Inception that actually put some imagination into its dreamworlds would be pretty exciting.
Maelstrom is basically Norse Mythology: The Ride. Sit in a Viking boat, travel through Viking lands. Odin shows up at one point, and so do two animatronic trolls. A couple of sharp turns, a sudden drop and a proclamation that “Norway’s spirit will always be adventure,” and you’re through.
You could go the Pirates of the Caribbean route and make Maelstrom an epic-scale viking adventure (maybe even with a sassy Johnny Depp under significant layers of beard). Or, you could go one better and add in a meta-layer with the real-life Maelstrom ride, which got shut down last year to make room for a Frozen-themed replacement. Maybe Odin and those trolls (one has three heads, the other resembles a tree trunk) come to life just before demolition day and their animatronic ears are raw from hearing “Let it Go” on continuous repeat. There’s room to maneuver here, although you’d need an idea that could stand out against Marvel’s Thor, for obvious reasons.
All Those Theme Park Ride Movies That Are Actually In Development
Most of the rides I picked lean towards the obscure side, and there’s a reason for that: just about every Disney attraction with name recognition has been up for a movie adaptation at some point. There’s The Hill, based off the Matterhorn– five “young adventure seekers” venturing up a mountain and discovering a pack of yetis. Jungle Cruise, which had Tom Hanks and Tim Allen attached at one point. Max Landis was scripting Space Mountain a few years ago (the logline: “Set in a retro 1950s version of the future, a young man must travel across a solar system in the wake of a terrible disaster, unravelling a mystery as he searches for his lost sister”). It’s a Small World locked in director Jon Turtletaub just last month.
It might mean something that The Hill, Jungle Cruise and Space Mountain haven’t been mentioned in years and are probably dead in the water, but I’d be all for a yeti-based action movie. Ditto for any trippy sci-fi coming from Max Landis. And who knows? We might actually see one or two of those in the future, if Disney wants to dust something off for another try at that Pirates of the Caribbean money. I just pray it’s not Jungle Cruise. I have a hard time believing that could end up anything other than RV in a boat.
Have any theme park rides you think would make a decent movie?